Sweet Talk: 5 Ways to Sell More Desserts at Your Pizzeria

Forty percent of consumers say they eat post-meal desserts at least twice a week. Here’s how to hit that sweet spot in sales.


Diet, schmiet—your customers are craving desserts, and they’re craving them more often. Research company Technomic’s 2013 Dessert Consumer Trend Report found that, compared to two years previous, more consumers are eating dessert items during midmorning and midafternoon hours, both as snacks and after meals. Even better, the report announced that dessert consumption is on the rise: Two-fifths of consumers (40%), up from 36% in 2010, report that they’re eating desserts after a meal at least twice per week.

Are you ready to cash in on customers’ demand for decadent desserts? If so, these five can’t-miss marketing tips—gleaned from savvy multilocation operations—will ensure that your sweets sales hit their sweet spot.


Get Savvy With Sampling. When the 561-location Hungry Howie’s Pizza (hungryhowies.com) chain, based in Madison Heights, Michigan, recently rolled out a dessert for the first time in years, it was important to let both new and existing customers know about the option. “We implemented an aggressive sampling program in August,” notes Rob Elliott, executive vice president of marketing for Hungry Howie’s. “We included a sample of our new Howie Brownie with every outgoing order.” Not only does a free sample guarantee trial and spread the word, it’s also a great opportunity to exceed expectations, leaving the customer with a positive impression of his overall experience, Elliott adds.


Picture This. Mouthwatering menu descriptions are crucial for tempting customers to try your desserts, but images act as a powerful reinforcement. Take the time to style and photograph your desserts so they look their best, then display the pictures in menus, marketing materials, e-newsletters and more. “A picture is worth a thousand words and is definitely the most important piece of the pie, so to speak,” says Christina Coy, vice president of marketing for Pie Five Pizza Co. (piefivepizza.com), with more than 30 locations in nine states. “We make sure every dessert picture is mouthwatering and use those images everywhere: in-store, on digital ads and through all social channels.”


When promoting desserts, Pie Five Pizza Co. employs mouthwatering photography to grab attention and ramp up sales. Photo by Pie Five Pizza Co.

“If we can get our brand loyalists to try an LTO dessert and then wow them with a decadent recipe, they provide some of the most meaningful testimonials and drive engagement.”
—Christina Coy, Pie Five Pizza Co.


Get Suggestive. Your order takers and in-store servers play a key role in encouraging trial of your desserts. Teach your staff to suggest a personal favorite dessert with every order and encourage them to play up its flavors. They can even open the conversation with a heads-up at the start of the meal: “Don’t forget to save room for our amazing zeppole.” Often, the mere suggestion—along with a personal testimonial—will inspire customers to “find room” for a sweet ending to their meals.

You can also initiate a contest among staff members to motivate them. For its new dessert rollout, Hungry Howie’s incentivized franchisees by offering a weekend getaway to the location with the highest percentage of sales over three months, plus a cash prize for the entire crew. Meanwhile, an ongoing incentive for crew members rewarded the employee with the highest percentage of dessert sales. “You have to motivate employees to keep desserts at top of mind,” Elliott points out. “We want to make sure they’re communicating on the phone about this with every customer.”


Brand Names Resonate. When it comes to indulgent comfort foods such as desserts, customers often gravitate toward the familiar. Utilizing well-known brands has been successful for Pizza Doctors (pizzadoctors.net) in La Crosse, Wisconsin, where owner Larry McMahon tops dough with beloved ingredients, including Skittles, Heath Bars, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and M&Ms. Similarly, Pie Five leverages partnerships with well-known specialty brands, such as Ghirardelli and Oreo, to drive dessert trial. “Customers know and love these brands, and we want them to know we’re using the best,” Coy says.

Alternatively, you might find that your guests crave something a bit outside-the-box—healthier options, bite-size portions, or gluten-free or low-calorie recipes. Survey your customer base to find out what they’d like to see on your dessert menu, or suggest that servers ask them about their favorites.


Creative signature desserts help differentiate your pizzeria from competitors. Photo by Lulu’s Bed & Breakfast


Give Desserts Equal Billing. Your desserts should work to reinforce your brand image and your menu as a whole. For example, at Brooklyn, New York-based Posh Tomato (poshtomato.com), with four locations in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, the menu is based around a very thin crust used as a “plate” for both sweet and savory toppings. Since Posh positions desserts alongside its pizzas, customers opt for the s’mores-inspired pizza with about 60% to 80% of orders, estimates Posh Tomato COO Solomon Sarway. “The category of dessert is not ancillary to our menu. It’s an anchor,” he explains. “It’s all about knowing what the customer expects, then coming up with something that will properly complement your core product in as many ways as possible—in the amount, taste profiles, plating, etc. We elevate dessert options by positioning them as equal to our core product.” In addition, Posh Tomato appeals to young diners through local sourcing, utilizing a local shop to supply its raw chocolate.

For Hungry Howie’s, it was important to ensure the new dessert played off the chain’s focus on flavors, reflected in its various flavored crust options. Like any pizza, the Howie Brownie, served in a family-size, five-piece portion, can be customized with the option of a salted caramel or chocolate drizzle. The takeaway: Define what your point of difference is, then ensure it carries over to your dessert menu.


Hit the Campaign Trail. Whether you’re adding new desserts to the menu or want to amp up interest in your current array, initiating a marketing campaign is crucial to success. “We utilize our loyal Circle of Crust members and offer points-based offers to entice them to try our limited-time desserts,” Coy notes. “If we can get our brand loyalists to try an LTO dessert and then wow them with a decadent recipe, they provide some of the most meaningful testimonials and drive engagement. We also look for natural dessert drivers, like holidays or social trending. For example, we rolled out our Monster Brownie to coincide with National Splurge Day, which gave our customers justification to give our new dessert a try.”

Hungry Howie’s aggressively spread the word about its desserts with point-of-purchase materials, through its telephone greeting, with a pop-up on its online ordering page, and in print advertising. “In-store, we installed POP displays with mouthwatering photography and a call to action to entice customers to try the dessert,” Elliott explains. “We want it to become instinctual for the customer to add a dessert to his order.”


Tracy Morin is PMQ’s senior copy editor.